Bits o' Brian

Continuing the quest to align Marketing and Sales

Are You Leaving a Gap For Your Sales Team? Use “Appointment Campaigns.”

I recently answered a question in a forum on selling to executives about whether or not it is a good practice to use a “cold email” approach to a decision-maker to get an appointment. In my answer, I advised the seller that email is fine, but it shouldn’t be about getting an appointment. It should be about loosening the target’s status quo. The content of the email should provide a provocative point-of-view about a business challenge and leave the target wanting more. That “more” may be a sales appointment or it may be another purpose-built element in an “appointment getting campaign.”

So this begs the question of whether or not organizations are leaving a dangerous chasm for sellers to cross when it comes to engaging qualified prospects in a sales conversation. For all the great work we may be doing in messaging, demand generation, and lead nurturing, we may be leaving our sellers with a large gap to close.

Consider adding an “Appointment Campaign” to your field toolkit. Depending on your organization, this can have varying degrees of flexibility from fully scripted and measured to a menu of tactics and content from which sellers can choose depending on the circumstances. The key here is to not put your sellers in the position of creating their own content and messaging as they attempt to convert qualified leads into sales appointments.

Leverage your message maps, personas (Status Quo Profiles), and meetings with the Sales team to develop a toolkit of content designed to help get decision-makers to take those next steps toward an active sales engagement. Some items to consider:

  • Introductory email(s). Pre-write email content that lets the seller establish a provocative point-of-view and credibility as a representative of a firm that has a unique approach to an industry challenge. Ask for the appropriate next step in the email…this may or may not be getting an appointment.
  • Video vignettes. Use Brainshark or other tools to create short, compelling content to help drive home the firm’s point-of-view. Include links in the initial email or use this as a follow-up tool. Brainshark allows the creation of customized introductions to pre-crafted content which allows a seller to send a “I pulled this together for you” message to the prospect.
  • Case study snippets. These are pretty classic, but consider a different approach. Rather than send a beautifully crafted, detailed case study, build short, concise (50 words or less) case study snippets. These can be embedded in an email or included in other correspondence.

This is a starting point of ideas. Don’t make it too complex, but don’t leave your sellers alone to cross the divide with their own tools and messages. A strong “Appointment Campaign” is a necessary catalyst to keep the commercial process moving once Sales has a qualified lead in hand.

(Image Long way down used under Creative Commons License)

Filed under: Marketing & Sales Algnment, Sales Enablement, , , , , , ,

MarketingProfs Focus on Augmenting Content Effectiveness

MarketingProfs published an article on Three Ways to Augment the Effectiveness of Your B2B Content Marketing recently. This short article lends further support to the need to employ Marketing With Content That Engages Prospects. In this post, and in this most recent MarketingProfs article, findings from the study, B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.

Combine this with recent findings from Corporate Visions in their 4th Quarter Marketing and Sales Messaging report in which supports the findings that only about half of companies believe their content is effective at helping to get a sales appointment. There has to be a huge focus here, Marketers. If you are not talking about content marketing in your planning meetings, then you could be falling behind a curve that is already stacked against effectiveness of content marketing.

Here are the three practical solutions suggested by MarketingProfs to help focus your efforts on improved content marketing.

  1. Increase investment in content. Studies show that best-in-class firms spend around 31% of their total budget on content (if your numbers for space advertising still look like this, it’s time to rethink your strategy).
  2. Align content to the way customers buy. Nearly half of the best-in-class firms segment their content based on the target customer buying cycle. This is an important one, especially if you shift your focus and resources to content as in #1 above. Don’t fall victim to the typical opening the floodgates of stories about this production, that customer success, and that commercial win. Make sure you have a strategy and a framework that clearly maps content to the entire buying cycle. Start with lead nurturing and work all the way through deal closure.
  3. Get the C-Suite behind you first. These changes require changes in funding allocation and potentially organizational structure and talent. If you are trying to gain alignment upward and downward at the same time, you risk getting squeezed to the point of ineffectiveness. MarketingProfs report that 92% of best-in-class content marketers have C-Suite buy-in.

Solid support for focus on content marketing. This can and should be a key topic for current business planning cycles. As with many things we discuss here, it requires recognition of the issue within the specific dynamics of your firm and then it requires a solid vision and the discipline to shift the organizational dynamics to help you get there.

(Image Focus used under Creative Content License)

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Get Better Results By Provoking Prospects

Calling all courageous marketers. Yes, I said to provoke your prospects. Nip at their heels…poke at them…get them moving. But I’m not talking about making yourself or your brand a pest, I’m talking about purposefully shaking things up and guiding your prospects toward your unique solution.

In its recent Marketing and Sales Messaging Report, Corporate Visions cited a study which found that only half of companies with an automated lead nurturing program believe that sales leads are better qualified. Furthermore, work by the Corporate Executive Board has found that the “Challenger Salesperson,” those sellers who challenge a customer to think differently about his business, are significantly more successful than a traditional salesperson who bases his work on relationships only.

This points to the need to rethink our lead nurturing and sales content. I wrote recently about the need for Marketing to get lead nurturing messaging in shape and to write content that gets prospects moving. No longer can we be satisfied with “feel good” content. We must establish a distinct point-of-view around our target customers’ challenges and then build content in our lead nurturing programs and sales conversations that provoke and that create a bias for our unique solutions. Not only will the provocation be helpful in creating an interruptive dialog because it will sound different than everyone else, it can also be designed to purposefully move prospects in our direction. The cascading effect can be better leads that set Sales up for true solution-centric conversations and customers who view us as helping their business versus causing them to spend money.

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If Marketing and Sales Aren’t Aligned, Ask “Why” Five Times

In my last post, I further explored the idea that Marketing and Sales alignment is not a problem to be solved in and of itself. Rather, it is an issue that puts pressure on commercial productivity and has a variety of causes. Those causes will be different for different businesses and will evolve over time.

Improving alignment between Marketing and Sales is a continuous process just as operational productivity has been treated for years. Here I introduce a standard Root Cause Analysis technique that I leaned back in my process engineering days. It is called “5 Whys” as it is a questions-asking process that explores cause and effect relationships until the lowest common denominator (or root cause) is found.

The process is simple, but requires some discipline. Start with the observed problem and ask a series of “why” questions to arrive at the root cause. Here’s an example:

Lead conversation rates in the industrial sector are very low…

    Why? “Because the abandonment rate is higher than in any other sector”
    Why” “Because only a fraction of leads move to the opportunity stage.”
    Why? “We are unable to get follow-up appointments to qualify them to move to the opportunity stage.”
    Why? “The most common feedback is that the prospects are comfortable with their current situation.”
    Why? “Because we are not getting their attention about the risks of the new regulations coming next year.”

You could certainly continue this line of questioning further, if needed, but five rounds has been generally found to get from symptoms to causes. In this case, the corrective action could be to “reposition the messaging used in the demand generation program to articulate possible risk of upcoming regulatory changes.”

This is a simple, yet effective Root Cause Analysis technique for Marketing. By applying this technique, you can focus limited resources on fixing root causes rather than treating symptoms with little effect.

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Is There a Hammock In Your Front Yard?

Marketers, you have a hammock in your front yard and you need to prevent prospects from getting comfortable there before they even make it through your front door.

In their book, Conversations That Win The Complex Sale, authors Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer discuss the science that tells us sales people don’t have a prospect’s attention when they’re making the critical potions of their sales presentations. There is a higher level of attentiveness at the beginning and at the conclusion of the pitch, but attentiveness drops off significantly in the middle. Higher on the ends, with a slump in the middle forms the image of a hammock…thus the term.

They go on to discuss several techniques that sales people can use to maintain the prospect’s attention throughout the presentation. This focuses on the hammock that occurs in a sales presentation…toward the back end of the opportunity funnel.

But, what about the front end when Marketing is capturing and nurturing leads? I believe there is a “hammock” here as well and we must employ changes in our lead nurturing that will keep the prospect engaged throughout the nurturing process, prevent leads going cold, and have them more qualified than ever for the hand-off to Sales.

How can Marketing avoid the hammock during lead nurturing? Many of the techniques proposed by Erik and Tim can be leveraged in the front-end process as we seek to capture and nurture leads:

  • It starts with the content and message, so you still need to spend the time up front making sure you have a uniquely differentiated point-of-view and the right content to support that point-of-view in your lead nurturing program.
  • Grabbers. Techniques to break the expected pattern of engagement and wake the prospect’s attention. Erik and Tim discuss several techniques in their book such as “What if you” questions, number plays, customer stories with contrast, and even 3D props. These concepts can be adapted to the front-end prospect engagement.
  • Visual stories. Use of  “Big Pictures,” infographics and other visual techniques support the narrative and keep the prospect more engaged.

(Image Hammock used under Creative Commons License)

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Nail The Sale…Is Your Toolbox Missing a Hammer?

In my role, I spend a lot of time developing messaging and associated narratives to create a unique point-of-view in the marketplace. Certainly, a key aspect of deploying this story is to create tools that your Sales teams can use to help further the narrative, move the prospect away from his status quo and toward your unique solution. Usual suspects here even include those tools that Marketing uses in lead nurturing campaigns to start the story before Sales resources get directly involved.

However, as Marketers, we may be missing the need for some key tools to help enable our Sales teams. These are internal learning tools that customers never see, but have as much rigor put into them for the benefit of your Sales teams as you would a brochure or other collateral for customers’ eyes. Why is this critical?

  • The selling environment grows more and more complex and flooded with product feature-based information;
  • Time passes from an initial launch or splash and when a Sales professional actually needs to gain the attention of a prospect;
  • As we create better messaging with a unique point-of-view, we need to make that messaging come alive for Sales folks

When we launch new messaging, our sales toolkit is usually about half internal-only materials solely to help Sales learn, remember, and crispen their delivery of the messaging. We use creative resources to provide engaging visual layout, simple copy to allow the messaging to shine through, and deploy the tools into systems that put the right content in front of the seller depending on the selling situation she is in.

Yes, this is more work for the Marketing team, burns more agency hours, and requires more time to build a deployment plan. However, these are the very tools that make the conversations at the seller-buyer level work. The customer-facing tools support the conversation during or afterward. So take a look at your sales toolbox and make sure that, if you give them nails, also give them a hammer.

(Image Hammer to Fall used under Creative Commons License)

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Lead Nurturing Content That Gets Prospects Moving

I’m participating in a discussion on LinkedIn about the challenges associated with lead generation campaigns. There are many challenges, but I submit that the first thing we need to get right is the content.

To be compelling, the content we use in our nurturing programs needs to get prospects to take notice, think differently, and move away from their status quo and toward your unique solution. If the content does not initiate and continue this movement toward your solution, then lead nurturing will not be effective. As I wrote recently, it’s time to get lead nurturing content in shape. If the content is not compelling…if it cannot get the prospect moving in your direction, then the rest of the program won’t matter. In the recently released report from Corporate Visions, only 59% of companies believe their lead nurturing content is impactful enough to lead to a sales appointment. If that’s the case, you need to update your metrics with the “content factor:”

[campaign ROI] X 0.59 = Actual ROI

The message map that drives truly compelling content…that makes prospects uncomfortable with their current situation and gets them moving toward your solution is at the core of the fix. Recognize also, that getting prospects moving, and accelerating their movement toward your solution…shortening the buying decision cycle…should also be your goal.

Action

Be inspired by the idea of getting your lead nurturing content in shape here at the beginning of the year. While travel budgets are at their most robust, plan a workshop with your engineering, product, sales, and marketing folks to get on the other side of the 59%. You’ll need detailed messaging that is compelling to your prospects. I am a fan of the Corporate Visions Power Positioning™ engagement to deliver this. It’s a purposeful approach that provides expert facilitation and delivers the kind of differentiated messaging content you need to get your commercial conversations back in shape.

Regardless of which approach you choose, make sure that you are tearing apart your current messaging and starting with a fresh eye. You can take the good parts of the old messaging and plug them back into the narrative, but you must first make sure that you are starting from a position that will make you sound different in the market. A position that will get your prospects to take notice, move away from their status quo, and move (rapidly) toward your solution.

(Image Hiroshima Bullet Train used under Creative Commons License)

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Time To Get Lead Nurturing Content In Shape

It’s a new year and many of us are looking to undo some of the holiday excess. Getting back in shape for the coming warmer months and some encouragement from my doctor is a motivator for me. We Marketers need to do our lead nurturing programs a favor and get them into a fitness program as well.

I recently wrote about how we marketers need to have a serious look at the health of our value propositions. And, a post about a recent study by Corporate Visions that found only 59% of those surveyed felt their lead nurturing content is impactful enough to lead to a sales appointment tells me it’s time to whip our value stories into shape and get them into our nurturing programs.

One place to start is with the content you use to fulfill online inquiries such as white papers and webcasts. So often, these tend to be product feature or technology focused and don’t do much to help us sound different in the marketplace. As with any getting-back-in-shape program, it starts with small steps. Try implementing one new lead capture/nurture campaign that uses assets that provide your unique point-of-view regarding a particular challenge your target prospects are having. Don’t be tempted to include product or brand features. Let the content tell the prospect’s story, not yours. Check the results of this campaign versus others that are not quite as “fit” and let me know your results.

(Image Lenzie Jog used under Creative Commons License)

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Lead Nurturing Messaging Matters

Corporate Visions just released its 4th Quarter Sales and Messaging report which focuses on lead nuturing. In this report, they’ve found that within the 55% of companies in the study that have an automated lead nurturing program in place:

  • Only half believe that the leads passed to sales are better qualified;
  • An integrated mix of email and phone calls are used along with rich content such as video, webinars, white papers, etc.;
  • Just over half believe that the content used in their nurturing program is “good enough”

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the work these guys do and have employed their methodology numerous times as we seek to reposition a brand or retool our sales enablement efforts. In this report, they’ve underscored a concern I have about the risk of marketing delivering poorly qualified leads to sales (Leads that don’t lead to a bake-off). If we develop a differentiated position and a distinct point-of-view that is designed to move prospects away from their status quo and set us apart as the one firm that can uniquely provide a solution to their challenge, we must make sure that the whole conversation is leading to that end…not just the one that starts when Sales shows up.

The Conversation Roadmap™ produced by Corporate Visions is a guide to an entire targeted conversation with a prospect for whom you’ve identified a business goal, challenges, and how your solutions uniquely address those challenges. Why not deploy this in the early conversation your firm has with prospects while they are in a lead nurturing program? While you may have revamped your sales tools to help support this new, customer-based story that loosens the status quo and moves prospects toward a buying decision, you probably have more work to do to put the same effort into your lead nurturing content. Here’s a great idea for your first Marketing team workout in 2012:

  1. Take a look at your lead capture hooks such as social media, SEO/SEM, etc. and see if they are simply touting the brand or if they are truly starting a conversation to loosen a prospect’s status quo. Hint: if they start with “What if you could…” you are probably on the right track.
  2. Now, consider the content you deploy once a lead is in your system. Do the follow-up emails and/or phone scripts continue the conversation by adding more clarity about the risk of status quo, or do they revert back to the usual “this is who we are, and this is what we do” brand speak?
  3. What about the rich content that you deploy as prospects move deeper into your nurturing program? Do your webinars, white papers, videos, etc. yield to the temptation to talk about a product or service offering, or do they have the discipline to further the conversation that should have started at “What if you could…” and begin to uncover a bit more about your firm’s distinct point-of-view of this target’s business challenge?

I’ve been here (still am, honestly, as the journey continues to differentiate conversations across the entire prospect/customer lifecycle). I think you’ll find that Marketing has a lot of work to do to insure the lead nurturing programs in place or on your goals for 2012 start and continue a differentiated conversation so that you don’t sound just like your competitors. Your customer-centric messaging must be deployed into your lead nurturing content and your sales-ready tools. Otherwise, you run the risk of telling a very disconnected and non-compelling story to prospects allowing them painlessly choose either to engage in a competitive bake-off, or to simply stay where the are today, making no buying decision at all.

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Marketing’s Problem With CEOs and Three Fixes

A recent study by the Fournaise Group cited that most CEOs believe that Marketing is disconnected from business metrics that matter.

77% of CEOs interviewed said of Marketing:

“They keep on talking about brand, brand values, brand equity and other similar parameters that their top management has great difficulties linking back to results that really matter: revenue, sales, EBIT or even market valuation.”

I might add my favorite topic, “story” into that mix of words that might not easily connect to the metrics that matter. So, Marketing, we have a problem. Unless my “bad day in the office” fantasy of setting up a bar on a remote beach someplace pans out, I suppose we need to work on this problem. Marketing needs to:

  • Learn a new language. We all understand the inherent value in our company’s brand and reputation. Yet, it is difficult to value from a business metrics perspective. As marketers, we need to learn how to connect the value of brand and reputation to measurable results…not explicitly but we need to connect the dots. So, learn to speak about brand and reputation value in the context of metrics that matter. “Strong recognition and reputation of our brand helps accelerate our commercial pipeline, thus delivering revenue earlier and decreasing the cost per deal of our Sales resources.” You can cite pertinent studies in your industry or from the AMA regarding the impact of brand awareness on purchase preference, etc.
  • Improve operations. Much of what Marketing does indeed drives revenue, sales productivity, etc. Improve your operations to maximize your ability to tie campaigns to increased consideration, lead generation, etc. and then tie those results to increased sales, better sales (percentage of opportunities with target segments), etc. We all know that this is fraught with difficulty and is the source of many internal debates about who gets credit for what. Consider the use of service level agreements to improve the connectivity of marketing generated leads to sales opportunities. At the very least, use the “learn a new language” lessons above and discuss how the activity connects, even if you don’t have the processes and tools to measure the impact (yet).
  • Work on your marketing and sales ecosystem. The deal is, even if you have a brand that rocks, you aren’t going to effectively impact metrics that drive your business if you have a big gap in your commercial conversation. You need to make sure that your brand value translates into demand generation efforts that will resonate with prospects and get them to do something, that there is a strong sales enablement effort in place that gives the sales team the knowledge and the tools to carry that commercial conversation forward, and that they have the skills needed to keep those prospects moving toward a closed deal. Corporate Visions, who I cite often here, has a great view of this ecosystem when they talk about “messages that matter, tools that get used, and skills to deliver conversations that win.”

We know Marketing drives key business metrics. However, we often don’t tell our own story internally very well, build the internal systems that will shine a light on the function’s impact, or identify and close the gaps we have between our brand and the one-on-one customer conversation.

(Image Problems are Opportunities used under Creative Commons License)

Filed under: Marketing & Sales Algnment, Marketing Operations, Sales Enablement, , , , , , ,

A bit about Brian…

Brian McGuire is a senior Marketing and Sales alignment leader (read bio here). He blogs from his experience, research and observations about the challenges B2B firms face as they connect their brand, their product innovations, and their capability to the needs and objectives of their customers. All views and opinions expressed are his alone.

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